When a season is only a few weeks in, fans are generally able to recognise the current climate of the league at its early stages will eventually mould into an understandable and semi-predictable picture that fans can justify.
Why does a three-time champion, two-time MVP and the greatest shooter ever need to score 62 points in a regular season game to silence the critics?
Coming off five straight finals appearances and a 2018 finals loss riddled with injuries, the 2019-20 season began as a rebirth for the Golden State Warriors.
Kevin Durant tore his Achilles and had taken his talents to the Brooklyn Nets, Klay Thompson tore his ACL and missed the entire season and the ever-polarising Draymond Green looked past the peak of his career.
It was then that chatter began to arise that this would be the season that finally cemented Stephen Curry’s legacy. The baby-faced assassin was yet to prove that he could carry a team to the playoffs.
How can you truly be one of the greats if you have never done this?
Well, after Curry broke his left hand in the fourth game of the season and then only managed three more due to the COVID-19-induced suspension of the NBA season, it appeared that Curry had dodged a bullet. He no longer needed to prove to the naysayers that he could carry a team – it was delayed for the foreseeable future.
It did not take long for the cycle to begin again. Klay Thompson tore his Achilles one month before the start of the 2020-21 season, Draymond Green was even more disappointing in 2019-20 and the gold standard of bench squads that the Warriors had become known for was now filled with inexperienced role players and recycled parts.
Steph Curry again has the opportunity to finally prove he is a great by carrying a team.
And on opening night, Steph Curry was exposed. The Warriors fell to their former finals MVP Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets by 26 points with Curry shooting a miserable 7-21 from the field and 2-10 from three. The Warriors backed up this effort with a 39-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and a 25-point loss to the Trail Blazers seven days later.
The hot takes came in droves. This was enough for people to be convinced that Steph Curry is overrated and a front runner. He requires superstar teammates to be a superstar.
But sports fans are forgetful and have short memories. Curry had already proved to us all he needed to, we just weren’t paying attention.
Let’s look at the forgotten season in Steph Curry’s career: the 2012-13 Golden State Warriors.
Midway through the 2011-12 NBA season, the Warriors traded leading scorer Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for Andrew Bogut, signalling to the rest of the league that this team now belongs to the 23-year-old Stephen Curry.
The 6-3 guard out of Davidson had spent the majority of his early career battling ankle injuries and turmoil within the front office. Curry started fresh in 2012, signing a four-year, US$44 (A$59) million extension with the Warriors. He began the new season, quickly becoming the focal point of the offence. He led the team in scoring, shot attempts and usage rate.
Most people had the Warriors missing the playoffs as they were considered too inexperienced with rookies Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green along with the future splash brother Klay Thompson only in his second season.
The Warriors had other plans with the dynamic duo of Curry and David Lee. They were loaded with savvy veterans such as Jarrett Jack, Carl Landry and Andrew Bogut. It doesn’t exactly scream superstar teammates, does it? The team posted an impressive record of 26-15 in the first half of the season.
What’s that I hear? Stephen Curry wasn’t even an All Star this season but teammate David Lee was!
Correct, David Lee snuck into the Western Conference reserves averaging 19 points per game and 11 rebounds per game. Meanwhile, the league’s seventh leading scorer Curry – averaging an extremely efficient 23 points per game and seven assists per game – missed out.
This was prior to the All Star voting changes, so the fans accounted for 100 per cent of the starters’ vote and coaches decided the reserves. Curry was declined an invitation in favour of players on more successful teams such as Tony Parker and Zach Randolph and is widely considered one of the biggest All Star snubs of the decade.
Curry – like he so often does – showed why the doubters were wrong ten days after the All Star game, dropping 54 points and shooting a franchise record 11 from 13 from three-point range in a 109-105 loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. This was at the time the third highest points total by an opponent at the infamous MSG and the highest single-game output by anyone in the 2012-13 season.
The Curry-led Warriors eventually finished sixth in a stacked Western Conference that included ten teams 0.500 or better. This regular season proved Curry can carry a team to the playoffs and the Warriors did not miss the playoffs until the 2020 NBA season.
That wasn’t the end of it though. What if I told you Stephen Curry and the Warriors upset the 57-win Denver Nuggets in six games with their All Star David Lee only playing in Game 1 of the first-round series?
It sounds unbelievable. There is no way Curry could carry a team missing their only All Star, yet he did. Curry averaged 24 points per game, nine assists per game and two steals per game and the Warriors won the series in six games.
The signature moment of this series was midway through the third quarter in a tight Game 4. With the Warriors leading the series 2-1, Curry exploded for 22 points in a seven-minute stretch, shooting eight from nine from the field, including four three-pointers. It was almost foreshadowing to every NBA fan what we eventually saw on a nightly basis for the next five years.
It was the type of moment that made you convinced that you were watching a future superstar.
The Warriors put up a fight in the next round against the eventual finalist San Antonio Spurs, including a 44-point explosion from Curry in a double-overtime Game 1 loss. However, the Spurs went on to win the series in six games and the Warriors’ dream run came to an end.
Curry finished the season shooting 45 per cent from three-point land and breaking the NBA record for three-pointers made in a season while finishing top 16 in points per game, assists per game and steals per game. Curry was not selected for any All NBA teams. Instead, David Lee took the honours for the Warriors making the All NBA third team.
No, the 2012-13 Warriors didn’t win the NBA title nor did Steph Curry win the Most Valuable Player award. In fact, he didn’t even make the All Star game. In time, a season like this is forgotten. There is no banner in the stadium to remind you or a trophy with their names engraved on it.
Instead, we are merely left with compiled highlights that struggle to show the context of the situation.
But this season proved that this skinny six-foot-three, 185-pound shooter was un-guard-able. It proved that he could turn games on their head by himself in the span of a couple of minutes. It proved that greatness can be based on skill instead of strength or size.
The stability of Stephen Curry’s legacy is questioned to this day, but it was cemented a long time ago.
Fast forward to 2021, the Warriors are off to a slow start and Curry’s leadership and carrying abilities are again put into question. What does he do? Splash a career-high 62 points including eight threes in a 15-point win against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers.
Two days after Curry’s historic night, a reporter mentioned to Draymond Green a peculiar yet widely held belief that “Steph is a guy that needs the offence to really be in a flow to be at his best.”
Again, that comment was downplaying his accomplishments by implying that for Steph Curry to be great, he needs to be within a great offence.
Green’s abrupt reply?
“Steph is the flow.”